A partial government shutdown could result in taxpayers having to shell out double pay for hundreds of thousands of federal workers if Congress and President Trump can’t come to an agreement in the next several hours.
Federal funding runs out at midnight Friday and a General Services Administration pay period ends the next day. According to a report in The Washington Examiner, “a shutdown lasting even one day — through Saturday — could trigger penalties under a Great Depression-era law.” The Fair Labor Standards Act allows “liquidated damages” that could double a worker’s pay if they aren’t paid on time.
In 2013, attorney Heidi Burakiewicz sued on behalf of about 25,000 people who had been paid late because of the last shutdown. She told the Examiner, “The people who are ‘essential’ are often the people working weekends. I’m concerned that the powers that be that are contemplating whether another shutdown should happen are not thinking about the consequences that hardworking federal employees are going to have to deal with.”
According to the report, this year’s funding crisis has the potential to affect a much greater number of federal workers, because unlike last time, Congress has not pre-emptively funded paychecks for members of the military and civilians who work for the Defense Department. Legislation protecting military workers in 2013 reduced the number of “essential” workers not paid on time from more than 1 million to a few hundred thousand.
Trump has repeatedly warned that a partial shutdown would hurt the military, but Democrats seeking a deal to protect DACA’s illegal immigrants could derail the spending proposal pending before the House of Representatives. The bill needs 60 votes to proceed.
Burakiewicz, an attorney at the firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., told the Examiner that the 2013 shutdown greatly affected lower-income people, “such as federal Bureau of Prisons employees who had to pay bills and expenses for long commutes to distant and dangerous jobs.”
In February, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith ruled in favor of Burakiewicz’s clients, finding the FLSA applied even though a separate law, the Anti-Deficiency Act, seemed to prevent the government from issuing on-time pay for work performed Oct. 1-5, 2013, at the start of the 16-day shutdown, because those funds weren’t approved by Congress.
The report further noted that experts are still working to calculate damages for workers paid late in 2013. “The calculations are time-consuming, requiring information from many agencies. Workers who earned overtime are entitled to be paid that amount for a second time, but damages for work up to a standard 40-hour week are pegged to the minimum wage.”
Keeping that in mind, any payout for workers affected by a 2017 shutdown would likely come years later.